Time for a round up

This post has been modified to include the precious insights of the commentators. First, I retract the ‘blame’ language that is quite useless it is true. Second, I try to focus on asking the questions we tend to think are the most relevant.

The recent wave of violence taking place in Lebanon has put into question several issues that I wish to address:

1- The legitimacy of the Lebanese army’s action

Posing the problem in the way it is posed through either nationalist from one side or leftist ‘humanist’ rhetoric from the other fails to address the problem. The Lebanese army was caught off guard whatever one may say. It would be much more judicious to wonder why the Lebanese army was put in this situation in the first place (if there is such a thing as a mover). And why, until now, no significant diplomatic moves have been recorded.

We need a much better understanding of what is going on inside the camps. How are political organizations structured? What are the various competing claims to power? What are the different security structures? And if there is a state of mild anarchy within the camps then to what extent other groups know what is going on but are keeping it to themselves? The way the PLO is behaving for example is just outrageous: It is sanctifying the Lebanese army’s deeds and hope that Fath al Islam can be wiped out the hard way. Where were they all this time? So busy brokering deals with the Americans that they forgot there are camps in Lebanon?

But above all, one needs to understand better how did Fath and even Hamas lost their grasp of political leverage inside the camps. Who are the non-Palestinian actors that played a role in this weakening if any?

Next, one needs to assess the various primary scenarios at hand: whether Fath al Islam before going wild was initially backed by the Lebanese Mustaqbal lead group (with or without US oversight), or whether Syria has supposedly sent Al Absi to play dirty tricks on the Lebanese (i.e. abiding by the “there is a Syrian behind every misdeed in Lebanon”). But in order to do so one needs to demystify Fath al Islam’s “ethos”.

2- The motives of Fath Al Islam (demystifying the ‘ethos’)

That is the trickiest question. What are Fath Al Islam trying to achieve? Are they fighting some ‘imperialist’ or ‘western’ or whatever discursively-defined enemy that poses real exploitative structures on them? Who? The Lebanese government? What was the Lebanese State doing against these people?

See, the problem with the pervasiveness of the ‘terrorist’ concept is that these dudes don’t even need to have a motive in order to create trouble, because it is thus thought under this conceptual framework that because they are ‘terrorist’ (labeled as such) there is something ‘within their being’ that is prone to violence, nothing more nothing less. It is the ideological pervasiveness in the belief of the ‘the essence behind the action’ that bluntly biases our understanding of this movement. We don’t look for motives because the motive is just their ‘being’! (i.e. being terrorist, which is an empty signifier).

So let’s look for some sense in this: We know that Al Absi before being arrested in Syria was planning to ‘liberate the Golan‘. Well ok, that may be a militant plan that I can buy. Then, what were they doing in Lebanon? Did post-Hariri (because as pointed out by Jean Aziz for example, Hariri himself was not playing the ‘Sunni fundamentalist’ card) people promised them something specific? What was their political agenda? Why acting today?

3- The impact on the Lebanese political groups

The most interesting aspect of all this is how government, the opposition and even somewhat neutral ‘bystanders’ in the presses, blogs etc. are just working the problem through the ethical dilemma they face: Should we back the Lebanese army? or should we voice our concerns against the Palestinian civilians? Should we accuse the US of fomenting trouble, and wanting to find a pretext in order to either send more aid or just build a military base?

The obvious thing is that both the ruling government and the opposition groups are trying to play on the ‘terrorist’ rhetoric the best way possible. Opposition blames the government of letting ‘extremists’ develop, so they criticize their security mess-ups. And the government is pressing on more rapprochement with the international community in order to corner Hizbullah and other ‘old-regime’ remnants.

4- And now I vent a little (a note on the side):

Today, I pity the Lebanese army that found itself engulfed in this bloody quest, that is refueling anti-Palestinian sentiments, not between the Lebanese army ranks that are mostly Shi’as and are the most pro-Palestinian constituency in Lebanon today, but between the miserable petite bourgeoisie as would call it Al Haqid that have nothing else to do than to say: “ah these Palestinians they don’t want to let the army restore order, then they just get what they deserve!”.

I pity the innocent individual soldiers in the army that are obliged to play the ‘nationalist’ game for no reasons but to kill or get killed. I pity the Palestinians who are blocked in this camp or have difficulty leaving. And I pity the Palestinians to be in a camp in the first place. So I blame Lebanese authorities to have kept Palestinians in such a marginalized state where playing with a rifle was (obviously) a more exciting prospect than sitting and praying for divine liberation. And today, I blame Palestinian groups that have no oversight on these armed men and who on top of it all are hiding behind a completely disarrayed and brainwashed Lebanese government (himself hiding behind Uncle Sam) in order to see stability restored in their shit hole.

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13 Replies to “Time for a round up”

  1. Bech, was Fath el Islam under the jurisdiction, if you like, of any Palestinian group? That they made it into the camp and vicinity (are they simply rumours that the snipers are positioned in flash apartments outside the camp owned by Fatfat’s son?), points to more responsibility on the part of government than simply to have maintained the miserable camps. As for the PLO or any other group, agreed, pathetic stance. But how much clout do they really wield? I don’t know, but this kind of reads like the blame lies more squarely on the Palestinians and the government is merely an idiotic bystander that didn’t notice the build up. So, my point is, could these groups have made it into the camps without a green light to do so? How many assurances have been made in Lebanon that have been turned over in the line of political fire? Is it really the Palestinian groups hiding behind government, and what cards do they have to play? By the way, whatever Fath el Islam’s motives, their attacks on the army, for whatever reasons, from the midst of the most disenfranchised people in Lebanon who by all accounts, they do not represent nor are they native to at an extremely precarious time in the history of the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine, is at best criminally, murderously culpable. There is no need to take sides, because the real battle is not between the Palestinian people and the Lebanese army.

  2. I should clarify that last point: there is no conflict in condemning the killing of ill-prepared, ill-trained Lebanese soldiers by Fath el Islam and the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians inside the camps. That said, even if the army is no more effective than Dad’s Army, they still have a legal and moral responsibility to stop the indiscriminate shelling of the camp. ‘Collective punishment’ comes to mind, for the actions of a few that, by all accounts, do not even come from within their own ranks.

  3. Don’t bother reasoning with these guys Maha, they just like to read their opinions to each other, not bothering to look up available answers to the questions they pose.

    They want the world to conform to their personal biases, so just let them wallow in their own misery.

  4. You’ve picked the wrong ally ACP, but thanks all the same for the advice. These guys are my people, and I agree with pretty much everything they write, so I guess I’m a conformist. Which is why I comment rarely – one can get boringly repetitive with “great” and “agreed”. 🙂

  5. hahaha, who is this coffee drink? picked the wrong girl indeed..

    Maha you are absolutely right. But I am going from the premise that the government may not be behind every little steps Fath al Islam are taking. I go from the assumption that Mustaqbal or Mustaqbal-related factions have helped these groups in a way but then it went out of their hand. A bit like the Taliban and the US. So yes this is bad (in terms of the destructiveness policies). What I want to understand is what went on in these camps? Aren’t there other armed factions? From what I understand there are (see the article linked) and slowly it is Fath al Islam that ‘monopolized’ th port of arms. How did it happen? How was this managed in the first place? Did Palestinians inside the camps turned a blind eye to things happening? I may be completely wrong but I’m just asking questions.

    For the rest, I completely agree with you. I need to check more about what was written on the subject. Because for now, reporting on what went on in these camps is just about playing the blame-game. And as you said it is not about blaming the Lebanese army or the Palestinian, and that’s not what I am doing.

  6. By the way I am not saying that Fath al Islam was under the jurisdiction of anyone. I’m just wondering how things are politically managed inside the camps. As you know, in any geographical societal cluster there are if not explicit, implicit rules of conduct. And I am sure that what goes on inside the camp is very well disciplined.

    If Fath al Islam could prosper either the government or the leading Palestinian organization within the camps of any other party that has bought the others etc. are making it work. I would guess that a Palestinian camp is characterized by a highly stratified chain of command. but I may be wrong as I am not there to see.

  7. Here is what I was looking for. But these are just ‘anonymous Palestinian sources’:

    وكشفت هذه المصادر أنه بتاريخ 27/11/2006 قام العبسي وفريقه بـ «انقلاب أبيض» على «فتح الانتفاضة» تمكّنا خلاله من الاستيلاء على مراكزها ومخازن الاسلحة العائدة لها والتي كانا يقومان اصلاً بحراستها. وأفادت بأن هذه المخازن تحوي اسلحة متوسطة وثقيلة وخفيفة من مخلفات عام 1983

  8. warning: another conformist here …

    frankly, i think the concept of “blame” is overrated (unless of course, it’s coupled with accountability) … and being the blood-thirsty capitalist that i am, also believe that monopolies are rarely what they seem. in other words, even if there is a “stratified chain of command”, another chain can be created and expanded …

    besides that … ya’ll have asked valid questions.

  9. M, fellow conformist, I don’t think any of us really speak of blame in its own right – accountability is definitely coupled with any reference to blame.

    Bech, thanks for clarifying your points. I guess the al-Akhbar story kind of supports the theory that this break-away group (again, all accounts point to a group fearsome to the camp population rather than enjoying their support) acted with a level of impunity, which could lead one to conclude that they enjoyed some formidable external support to be able to take over control of the port and arms caches etc.

    You could say it’s the whole Frankenstein monster policy that these cashed up players (US, Hariri Inc.) perpetuate without enough foresight to realise they might lose control. But that’s also giving them the benefit of the doubt and vindicating them of any real responsibility in the whole sordid affair.

    I also tend to agree with M about monopolies and chains of command. But you’re right, none of us are in there to know exactly what goes on.

    The bottom line is the Palestinians are far too embattled to pose any real threat to the status quo that these bastards hang on to so dearly.

  10. Hi Bech, the Palestinian camps are little political entities with a number of political parties competing for hegemony, or control. Two political bodies that you can find in almost any camp are the Lijnit el ahli and the Lijnit el Chabie, that used to be elected and then not and yes. mostly it is political parties manning these committees. ( I am not trying to insinuate that there is a democratic process firmly established. there have been and are attempts, but the main political parties also attmept to hijack them etc.)
    As the PLO in the seventies was the most powerful Palestinian faction, i.e. money creating jobs, providing schooling etc. they were the once negotiating the “sovereignty” of the camps in Cairo. But from what i understand it would be wrong to say that the PLO/Fatah are responsible for the security anymore. (even though they probably would like to be).
    There have been reports that FeI were kicked out of Bourj el Barjne and Shatila ostensibly by interference of above named committees or a confederation of factions. ( these camps are smaller though and less poor then Nahrl el Barid from what i understand). With reasonable financial backing and the necessary display of firepower FeI would certainly have been able to impose itself. (Ein el Hilwe has often made the news for inter factional fighting i.e. worst case scenario of how it is fought out for dominance in the camp.) But especially since after the war there seems to have been increasing support to more radical groups in all the camps of Lebanon, in the same logic increasing their influence in the camps.

  11. Agreed Winston Smith. I’m sure there are competing claims over the means of coercion inside the camps and i’m sure Fath and Hamas has been weakening. I’m sure it depends also on which camps we are talking about.

    But nobody knew at least of what was going on? I mean why are Palestinian factions barking now? Why didn’t they say anything before?

  12. They are barking now because they came under pressure. the popular base ( to be a little generalizing) was getting slightly restless. The Monday after this shit started people came together and there seemed agreement that if the shelling continued Palestinians would make a stand against the Lebanese Army in solidarity with the population form Nahr el Barid as it was viewed as an attack on the Palestinians much rather than FeI. A confrontation would have been of catastrophic effects for Fatah and the rest.

    now comes a bit of inference:
    as at least fatah is becoming an Israeli/American proxy and the Hariri camp is also relying much on this support from this side.
    I would even go so far that there is, if minimal, financial support going form somewhere in the Hariri camp to Fatah, making them defacto allies.(this is hear and say though)
    That Hariri and his intelligence apparatus were aware of the “problem” i think is as much as established. (see Jund el Sham)
    before this happened then there was no need for anybody to bark. Only after it blew everybody was running for cover.

    It is not like they really care for Palestinians or Lebanese problems, their actions are motivated by their own interests.

    And in both cases, Leb and pal, there is a large gap between the political parties/ elites and their strategies and the needs of the broad swath of the population.

  13. the last paragraph is the objectiv truth of this whole mess:
    poor against poor.
    im a bit angry at aoun for not being “delicat” (im not surprised, its his “ethos” but it gets me angry when i see it).
    anyways, nice “spirit”.

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